Year Released: 1990
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Starring: Tom Selleck, Laura San Giacomo. Alan Rickman
(PG-13, 121 min.)
Genre: Western, Action and Adventure
Tom Selleck, all 6’4” of his manly magnificence, is at his prime in this often-overlooked iconic Western. Remember when masculinity was not considered “toxic?” A man was as good as his word, he defended the helpless with firearms and his fists, and he didn’t back down from a fight.
Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) is that kind of man,
…an American cowboy and sharpshooter with a specially modified rifle with which he can shoot accurately at extraordinary distances. He answers a newspaper advertisement that asks for a man with a special talent in long-distance shooting, using just four words, "M. Quigley 900 yards," written on a copy of the advertisement that is punctured by several closely spaced bullet holes. –Wikipedia
Only, it turns out his job is to kill off the local Aborignes, who are proving a nuisance to cattle baron Elliot Marston (Alan Rickman oozing that same underlying villainy he only taunted us with as Harry Potter’s Severus Snape).
Instead of a polite refusal, Quigley answers with a blow to the jaw that launches Marston through his own doorway. And so begins an enmity that can only end in death.
Along the way, Quigley befriends Crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo) after they are beaten and abandoned in the outback, and the two form an alliance with the Aborigines who save them from certain death. There is plenty of against-all-odds action, with Quigley picking off the bad guys one at a time from great distances.
While none of all this seemed too unusual in the 90s when the film was released, it stands out today on several counts.
Selleck is John Wayne without the swagger,“…an actor who with his height, authority and natural ease might have been a major Western star in the old days” ( Roger Ebert). He is a man of few words, ruled by an unerring sense of decency and fair play. America’s version of a medieval knight.
He treats Cora with respect and dignity, rejecting her attempts at seduction when he realizes she thinks he is her long lost husband.
Quigley is a hero in our age of anti-heroes. He sees good and evil, not 50 shades of gray, and does what he must to uphold the former and annihilate the latter. Nuance is not in his vocabulary, nor was it much around in the outback just then either.
And the English, parading around in their ostentatious red coats, are depicted as prim, semi-corrupt enforcers of a decadent status quo. How refreshing for this lover of English mysteries, which never seem to get Americans right. Not even my favorite, Agatha Christie, whose Americans always seem little more than cardboard stereotypes, crass and rather vulgar. It is a nice reversal to see the English taken down a peg or two here, I must admit with just a whiff of guilty pleasure.
If you’ve already binged out on the new Longmire episodes, as well as all the Blue Bloods Netflix has to offer, take a gander at Quigley Down Under, now available on Amazon. You won’t be disappointed.
And maybe cook up a little taste of Down Under yourself with this delicious Aussie Meat Pie.